A Case For Better Action Movies: NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013)
The wheels are currently spinning for the latest reunion between filmmaker Isaac Florentine and martial arts action hero Scott Adkins for their latest project, Close Range. With that in mind, it’s well over a year since the two gathered for one of Fantastic Fest’s most memorable action hits at the time, Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, and most of the reviews were nothing short of positive in acknowledging its lead performer as worthy of bigger and greater roles – preferably from a Hollywood standpoint.
The film eventually released at the very top of the year on New Year’s Eve and I finally managed to purchase myself a digital copy on Google Play long after, and I pretty much hesitated to review the film since there were so many reviews on the film that I felt that everything that needed to be said had already been said. That said, I’ve caught the bug at the moment after seeing the film on my android a handful of times and absorbing the vast opinions I’ve been given on the film. Granted, people love the film, but there’s always room for improvement down the line, and I’ll get to that in a little bit.
The film’s storyline is pretty simple as it centers on Adkins in the role of Casey Bowman, a modern day warrior on a path toward happiness with his wife, Namiko, played by Mika Hiiji. It isn’t long before their world is shattered by tragedy and Bowman is swept into a downward spiral of vengance and hatred as he sets out on a deadly path of retribution, leaving a trail of blood from his home in Japan to the streets of Thailand where he eventually reacquaints with an old acquaintant, Nakabara, played by Kane Kosugi.
While there, Bowman is welcome to Nakabara’s school where he continues to mourn and heal. However, the mysterious sudden death of one of Nakabara’s students offsets suspicion and intrigue for Casey who presses Nakabara for information, and Bowman’s mission soon takes him into the inner-most dangerous circles of the Southeast Asian drug trade, pitting him against dangerous street thugs, corrupt cops, and a Burmese drug kingpin with a longstanding grudge against Namiko’s family. But there’s more to the story that isn’t so obvious, leaving Bowman to clarify who stands on opposite ends of the blurred line between his enemies and allies.
Clearly, this installment is full-on action packed and presents nothing short of a festive array of fully-automatic martial arts action, strengthened by Adkins‘ prowess and action auteur and co-star Tim Man‘s ambitious and inspired action direction. In that aspect, the film truly harkens back to the gritty, down and dirty, hard-hitting brutality of classic martial arts and ninja movies as a whole, making Florentine a true staple of the genre its fans know and appreciate him for.
To be blunt though, the film ultimately suffers from plenty of “just-okay” drama, with much of the good acting delivered by actor Shun Sugata who plays would-be drug kingpin Goro in the film. Adkins is the lead though, and I think what bothers me most is that I liked him more in the 2003 hit film, Special Forces where his character wasn’t written to sound American. It’s become a bit of a pet peeve with me where more and more studios are using British actors to play American roles, and really, this isn’t meant to slam the acting as it all depends on who is playing the role in said film, but I guess that’s just where I’m at now as a film fan. In Adkins‘ case, his acting is quite good, and I think his strongest performance was in John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning where his performance was more contemplative than obligated to perform wall-to-wall action to fill in the necessary gaps to keep viewers interested.
Don’t get me wrong. Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear is a great film for the fanbase with just enough acting muscle to appease the average viewer. Adkins isn’t given a lot to work with, but he can sure as hell carry his own movies, and his fanfare is proof of that. Really though, what we need are more films that give Adkins some extra space to work with and expand his scope as an actor. Mind you, all action fans love martial arts movies, and Adkins‘s audience loves him. But he needs to be appreciated as an actor as well, and that means giving him roles that don’t clutter his performability with montages of action sequences that provide more style than substance.
Florentine is also great at what he does, giving Adkins a playing field large enough to play roles often varying between his native English tongue, as well as his “American” tone and enough of a strong Russian persona to probably convince a lot of Europeans that Yuri Boyka is a real person. No, seriously. Google the name Yuri Boyka, and you’ll likely find some variation of him online via social media.
Anyway, that’s my review of Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, as late as it is, and I personally, REALLY want there to be a third installment. I think the Casey Bowman character has plenty of room to find layers within himself beyond his stoicism, much like what Boyka accomplished at the end of Undisputed 3: Redemption. If a third film can achieve this, then I hope the right people, including our dear director and star, will hop aboard and help make this a reality. The first film wasn’t everything Florentine wanted to accomplish, but thanks in large part to this second go-around, it helped set up a narrative for another potentially larger-than-life cinematic action hero made memorable by one of today’s biggest action stars with a niche that combines generations of movie goers who know what it was like to love action movies in the eighties and nineties.
More Adkins will follow in 2015, and I’m happy to stick around as I hope you all will too.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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